Some people are surprised to learn that Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) are the third largest clinical workforce in the NHS, supporting many clinical pathways and working across numerous organisational boundaries. As a collection of 14 diverse professions, we provide system-wide, holistic care, with a strong focus on supporting individuals to live full and active lives.
As the NHS Long Term Plan notes, there has never been such a need to harness the AHP workforce’s potential for transforming healthcare, flagging the importance of visible senior clinical AHP leaders as role models for the wider professional group. The diversity within the professional group and the breadth of career options available means that there is great potential for different routes into AHP leadership, provided clinicians are supported with exploring possibilities outside of the traditional clinical career.
The NHS Regional Clinical Leadership Fellow Scheme aims to offer a route into leadership for AHPs across all regions in the NHS in England, and we – 6 physiotherapists and 1 orthoptist – were proud to have been part of the inaugural cohort.
There were clearly high expectations of us when we started, which was initially daunting. However, as we settled into our new teams, connected with our fellow colleagues and began to explore the development opportunities around us, we could clearly see how far this scheme would push us.
We were met with opportunities to explore a wide range of activity; from working directly with regional Chief AHPs and developing international recruitment processes, to involvement with AHP Faculty and Council meetings. We have seen the launch of the new AHP Strategy ‘AHPs Deliver’ and how this fellowship programme aligns with the priority of enhancing the foundation of diverse and inclusive leadership. The recently published Chief AHP Handbook makes recommendations for aspiring chief AHPs around leading with compassion and authenticity, listening, building networks and finding allies – all skills we have refined this year, with the aim of taking these into our next roles.
We have been welcomed into a wide variety of teams, leading to a range of project opportunities. Specific areas of focus have included the Best MSK Health strategy, Community Rehabilitation Transformation Programme, clinical networks in Pulmonary Rehabilitation, and the Winter Deconditioning Games, which have been nominated for a Health Service Journal (HSJ) patient safety award. We have stretched beyond our comfort zones, working in areas including the refugee employment programme pilot; highlighting the breadth and scope that AHPs as clinical leaders can offer. Between us, we have also delivered pertinent webinars on population health, health inequalities and personalised care; core themes that run amongst all of the work we do.
Supportive mentoring and contact with senior multi-professional leads within our NHS regional teams has allowed us to gain a deeper understanding of the potential impact of AHPs within the leadership framework, and the opportunities available to develop and shape regional and national NHS priorities. Many of us feel reinvigorated by this opportunity which challenged us in new ways. We have reflected, dissected, and redeveloped leadership skills, building confidence in operating at a regional level.
The education programme provided by the Faculty for Medical Leadership and Management (FMLM) explored different aspects of leadership theory and practice, challenged our thinking, and exposed us to diverse perspectives with a multi-professional audience. Attending the “Leaders in Healthcare” conference was an illuminating experience – but one that highlighted further to us that we need to continue to take an active role in ensuring the value of AHP leadership is visible for all to see.
So, what is next for us?
The scheme has opened our eyes to new opportunities and changed the course of our professional lives, with few of us returning to the jobs we had at the start. We have been successful in obtaining roles within International AHP Recruitment, Refugee Support, Preceptorship and Innovation. Some of us are moving to operational positions (as clinical leaders of NHS services) allowing us to draw on the skills we have gained this year.
Most importantly, we have set ourselves the collective challenge of seeking out and developing roles within senior AHP leadership and, where they are yet to exist, advocate for AHP advancement by encouraging the creation of these roles. In other words, we plan to be the change we want to see.
AHPs can, and do, have the skillset and knowledge base to make a valuable leadership contribution to collaborative system working and improved healthcare for all. We were truly delighted to discover that so many AHPs were successful in their appointment for the 2022/2023 cohort of NHS Regional Clinical Leadership Fellows, highlighting, with no surprise to us, that there is both appetite and talent for clinical leadership development within this professional group. It is important that AHPs are encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and to explore the challenges and benefits of meaningful clinical leadership. This fellowship provides evidence of the powerful outcomes that can be achieved if they are.
Caroline is a musculoskeletal physiotherapist working in the North West. She has recently taken on a formal leadership role as Therapy Lead for Specialist Outpatient Services and is enjoying the new challenge. She is passionate about collaborative and compassionate leadership and how this can improve experience for patients and colleagues. Twitter:@Caroline_M_PT
Kehinde has been an advanced physiotherapy practitioner for over 10 years and has worked as an NHS Regional Clinical Leadership Fellow in the South East for the last 12 months, supporting the ICS in delivering pulmonary rehabilitation services. She has recently been appointed as an International Recruitment Lead for Allied Health Professionals in the South East NHS England team.
Pilar was born and trained in Chile as a Physiotherapist. She moved to the UK in 2009 and has since worked in a variety of acute and community settings where she developed a passion for working with adults with learning disabilities. Her current role is Physiotherapy Professional Lead in adult services and children therapies in Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust. Her focus during her regional fellowship at NHSE South East was on supporting the Best MSK strategy and helping embed AHP leadership within the South East region. Twitter: @PilarPhysiolead
Zoe Rothery is an NHS Regional Clinical Leadership Fellow working with the NHSE SE regional community rehabilitation recovery and transformation programme for this fellowship year. She is a neurological Physiotherapist working for University Hospitals Sussex NHS Trust, with strong interests in improving rehabilitation provision across care pathways and in AHP education. Twitter: @Zoeneurophysio
Emma Brown graduated as a physiotherapist from the University of Liverpool in 2003. Her specialty is neurological rehabilitation. She recently completed a masters module in Leadership for Allied Health Professionals. In 2021, Emma was appointed Vice Chair for the Stroke Rehabilitation Clinical Advisory Group for the East of England. During her fellowship she worked on the ‘Winter Deconditioning Games’ in the East of England region which was shortlisted for an HSJ Award. She is starting a new and exciting role as the Innovation Implementation Manager for Bedfordshire, Luton & Milton Keynes ICS and the Academic Health Science Network. Twitter: @emmamarybrown2
Rob is an Advanced Orthoptist at Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals working as the lead clinical tutor and training and development lead for Orthoptics. He has a special interests in glaucoma and works closely with children with special educational needs. During the first 6 months of his fellowship he worked in specialised commissioning aiding the recovery of paediatric elective care in the North West. Over the final 6 months of his fellowship, he has worked in the North West Clinical Workforce Team leading on a pilot to support refugee nurses and midwives to return to work and join the NHS.
Amanda is a Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist. Her fellowship involved reviewing AHP Leaedership in the SW region including organisational AHP lead structure, maturity of AHP councils and diversity of workforce. She has recently secured a further 12 month secondment as an AHP International Recruitment Lead in NHS England. Twitter: @akdufley
Declaration of interests
We have read and understood the BMJ Group policy on declaration of interests and declare the following interests: none.